Opening Bell: 12.11.14

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Harvard Business School Professor Is Sorry for Overreacting to a $4 Chinese-Food-Order Discrepancy (Daily Intel, earlier)
"Many people have seen my emails with Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline. Having reflected on my interaction with Ran, including what I said and how I said it, it's clear that I was very much out of line. I aspire to act with great respect and humility in dealing with others, no matter what the situation. Clearly I failed to do so. I am sorry, and I intend to do better in the future. I have reached out to Ran and will apologize to him personally as well."

Investec apologizes after 'I can't breath' backlash (BBC)
South African bank Investec has apologized after the headline "I can't breathe" on a research note caused an uproar on social media. The bank used it in a briefing about Standard Chartered facing regulatory hurdles in the US. It echoes the last words spoken by Eric Garner, an unarmed black man killed by US police in an apparent chokehold in July. The words have become a slogan in US protests against police violence. "Investec apologizes unreservedly for the inappropriate content in this morning's research note on Standard Chartered and for any offence caused," the bank said on Wednesday. "The content in question does not represent the views of Investec." In the research note, London-based analyst Ian Gordon had originally drawn more comparisons between the Garner case and the US government's scrutiny of British bank Standard Chartered, but that was edited out by Investec's compliance team before it was published. Mr Gordon said the US government put too much control and influence on the bank's business.

Treasury Pick’s Wall Street Ties Split Democrats (WSJ)
Five years after President Barack Obama decried “fat cat bankers on Wall Street,” he is being pilloried by fellow Democrats for nominating a Wall Street banker to a senior Treasury Department post. In tapping Antonio Weiss, Lazard Ltd. ’s global head of investment banking, as Treasury’s undersecretary for domestic finance, Mr. Obama has rekindled criticism he is appointing too many regulators with Wall Street ties who are unable—or unwilling—to engage in tough oversight of the big banks at the center of the 2008 financial crisis. The brawl has become a proxy battle for a deepening rift in the Democratic Party over its ties to the financial industry. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), Richard Durbin (D., Ill.), Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) and Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) all have expressed opposition to Mr. Weiss, as support for the 48-year-old banker continues to buckle.

Merrill raises broker bonuses for new accounts and assets (Reuters)
Merrill Lynch told its 14,000 brokers on Wednesday they will get higher bonus payments in 2015 for attracting new clients and assets but eliminated pay for servicing clients with less than $250,000. The brokerage subsidiary of Bank of America Corp will pay brokers .10 percent of new assets clients use to buy loans, banking and trust products, or put into fee-based advisory accounts. The cash bonus - half paid at yearend and half over eight years - doubles the .05 percent paid this year for such "strategic" money. Brokers attracting over $10 million of such assets get .20 percent and .23 percent for those reaching $50 million. However, bonuses in 2015 are being halved for new money put into low-profit money-market or bank accounts.

What an Appeals Court Insider Trading Decision Does, and Doesn’t, Do (Dealbook)
In a clear slap at Mr. Bharara’s campaign against insider trading, the appeals court criticized the “doctrinal novelty” of recent prosecutions aimed at tippees who receive information third- or even fourth-hand. “We note that the government has not cited, nor have we found a single case in which tippees as remote as Newman and Chiasson have been held criminally liable for insider trading,” the appeals court said. Thus, “the circumstantial evidence in this case was simply too thin to warrant the inference that the corporate insiders received any personal benefit in exchange for their tips.” Rather than just reverse the conviction and send the case back for a retrial, the appeals court went a step further by finding that the government failed to introduce enough evidence to convict them. This is something it typically doesn’t do even when siding with a defendant. Thus, these two defendants cannot be retried for their trading in this case.

'Vulgar' undies Comfyballs denied a U.S. trademark (UPI)
he Norwegian manufacturers of Comfyballs underwear said the U.S. patent office told them the brand name is too "vulgar" to trademark. Company founder Anders Selvig said officials filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office earlier this year with an aim toward bringing the products to the North American market, but the office's reply said the name was too "vulgar" to trademark. "The mark does not create a double entendre or other idiomatic expression... When used in this way, the word 'balls' has an offensive meaning," the office said in its reply to Comfyballs...Selvig called on the patent office to review its guidelines. "The trademarks 'Nice Balls' and 'I love my balls' have recently both been approved by the USPTO," Selvig told The Telegraph. "Luckily, Europeans have a softer view on what is deemed to be vulgar and the [European Union] allowed Comfyballs to trademark without hassle earlier this year."

Bond Investors Look to Cull the Herd (WSJ)
After years of strong gains and buying record amounts of debt, corporate-bond investors are facing a new challenge: what to sell. Many fund managers expect the long bull market in bonds to weaken next year because of slowing economic growth overseas, plummeting oil prices and a potential increase in interest rates in the U.S. That is forcing investors to identify bonds that are likely to lag behind the market, a task that stands to be more complicated than in past years, when widespread gains meant investors didn’t have to make as many hard choices on what to buy and sell. Corporate debt in 2015 will be a bond picker’s market, said Jon Curran, a Boston-based portfolio manager and analyst at U.K.-based Standard Life Investments , which oversees $422 billion in assets.

HSBC Dismisses London Head Of FX Trading (WSJ)
HSBC Holdings PLC has dismissed Stuart Scott, its London-based head of currencies trading, in connection with the global investigations that have led to the bank paying $620 million in fines on both sides of the Atlantic, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Scott was fired on Dec. 9 from a role that involved supervising the bank’s foreign-exchange trading operations. He joined the bank in 2007, according to the U.K. financial regulator’s register. Reached by phone, he declined to comment.

Netflix CEO: Broadcast TV will only last another 16 years (NYP)
“It’s kind of like the horse, you know. The horse was good until we had the car,” Hastings told the Hollywood Reporter last month. “The age of broadcast TV will probably last until 2030.”

Putin’s Friends Reap Billions in Deals as Economy Teeters (Bloomberg)
Having grown rich on government contracts during the boom in Putin’s Russia, friends of the president are benefiting anew as times grow tough. Lucrative orders keep rolling in for the favored few even as western sanctions and a collapse in oil prices push the economy to the brink. The development has polarized Russia’s oligarchy and pitted Putin’s small circle against less well-connected rivals in a battle for money and privilege.

Postal worker admits to stealing mail out of boredom (DFP)
Detroit-area postal employee is accused of stealing as many as 2,000 pieces of mail, pocketing any cash and dumping the leftovers along Interstate 94. Federal authorities say that Sharon Berrien told them she stole the mail out of boredom. It was mostly greeting cards. Berrien was charged Monday with stealing mail while working at a Detroit mail processing center. Investigators say she told them that the thefts began last spring. The probe started in October when mail was found along Pelham Road and I-94 and given to the Taylor postmaster. On Nov. 21, 800 pieces were found in Berrien's trash. Three bags were inside in a closet. Berrien says she kept $1,000 to $1,500. She didn't immediately return a phone message seeking comment on the criminal case Monday. "I was bored," she told investigators when they asked for the reason she stole the mail. She said she didn't have any financial problems.

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Opening Bell: 01.15.13

Westminster Hits At Goldman Sachs Bonus Plan (FT) Goldman Sachs provoked a furious reaction in Westminster after it emerged that the U.S. investment bank was mulling a plan to delay its U.K. bonus payments to take advantage of the imminent cut to the top rate of tax. John Mann, a Labour member of the Treasury select committee, criticized an "opportunistic money grab" by banks at a time of intensifying public anger against the sector. Some 10 banks had previously considered delaying bonuses until the top rate falls from 50 to 45 pence - although most have since concluded that this would be damaging. Chris Leslie, shadow Treasury minister, said banks needed to think carefully about their reputations. Fitch Warns Of US Downgrade Over Debt Fight (CNBC) In a statement Fitch said the debt ceiling was "an ineffective and potentially dangerous mechanism for enforcing fiscal discipline. It does not prevent tax and spending decisions that will incur debt issuance in excess of the ceiling while the sanction of not raising the ceilingrisks a sovereign default and renders such a threat incredible." Fitch Upbeat On Ireland (Reuters) If [Ireland's] debts could be shared out among euro zone states through the region's bailout mechanisms there could be scope for Ireland's BBB-plus rating to rise into the single-A category, according to Fitch analyst Douglas Renwick. "If there is an element of risk sharing, say perhaps through the ESM (European Stability Mechanism) over a bit of time, it could rise back to the single-A (range)," Renwick said. JPMorgan Ordered To Fix Lapses (WSJ) US regulators hit JPMorgan with four formal enforcement actions targeting lapses in risk-management and money-laundering controls, including the first sanctions in response to the bank's multibillion-dollar 2012 trading debacle. One set of cease-and-desist orders from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve instructs the largest U.S. bank by assets to remedy the breakdowns that allowed a small group of London-based traders to rack up more than $6 billion in losses last year. Another requires the bank to beef up its antimoney-laundering procedures and mirrors an action taken last April when regulators ordered Citigroup to upgrade its transaction-monitoring procedures and enhance internal audit. None of the orders issued Monday require any fines or monetary penalties, but regulators left the door open to future action. Wells Fargo Bets On Charlotte Trading After BofA Flees (Bloomberg) \Wells Fargo is betting its securities business can thrive 600 miles from New York in the same city Bank of America's traders largely abandoned. The first of 900 Wells Fargo employees moved last month into a new space on two floors of a 48-story tower in Charlotte, North Carolina. From their windows they can see the complex a half-mile away where Bank of America built its own state-of-the- art facility less than a decade ago for about 550 traders and investment bankers. Most have since been fired or moved to New York. Police: Teacher offers sexual favors to officer to avoid DUI arrest (WPBF) According to the arrest report, an empty gallon jug of Carlo Rossi wine was found behind the driver's seat of Maloney's damaged van, which was parked on the side of the street when officers arrived. Police said Maloney refused to cooperate with officers during their DUI investigation. Police said she began yelling at them and made random vulgar statements. While she was on her way to the police station, Maloney allegedly told an officer, "How much do I need to pay you to just let me go? Don't you understand I am a school teacher?" She then offered to perform oral sex on the officer and let him fondle her breasts, the report stated. RBS Libor Fine May Hit $800M+ (Bloomberg) US and UK regulators could hit the Royal Bank of Scotland with as much as $804 million in fines next week to settle allegations traders tried to rig interest rates, two people with knowledge of the matter said. Investment banking chief John Hourican and Peter Nielsen, the head of markets, may also be asked to leave because they had responsibility for the parts of the company where the alleged wrongdoing occurred. The fine would be the second-largest levied by regulators in their investigation into allegations traders at the world’s biggest lenders manipulated submissions used to set the London interbank offered rate. UBS AG, Switzerland’s biggest lender, was fined $1.5 billion in December for rate-rigging, exceeding the 290 million pounds Barclays paid in June. Bob Khuzami, Master Blaster (NYP) Robert Khuzami yesterday took aim at a Columbia University professor who chided the SEC’s head of enforcement for not suing enough high-ranking individuals at large financial institutions, choosing instead to settle with those companies...Khuzami said in a blistering 1,500-word article in the National Law Journal that the SEC has charged a total of 102 individuals associated with the credit crisis, including high-level executives at Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Bear Stearns, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac...It’s the second time in as many weeks that Khuzami has called out his critics by name. Just before New Year’s Eve, the Brooklyn native blasted Simon Johnson, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, for a New York Times blog that said Khuzami’s hire was a “mistake” because of his former ties to Deutsche Bank. Khuzami shot back in the comment section of the blog — an unusual move for a public official. Wall Street Pay Gets Tougher Look (WSJ) Daniel Loeb, who runs hedge-fund firm Third Point LLC, has raised questions about whether compensation levels at Morgan Stanley are justified given the New York company's size and relative simplicity compared with larger bank. Hedge Funds' Manhattan Migration (WSJ) Of the new firms starting out in Manhattan, Greenwich or Stamford, about 86% picked the Big Apple, on average, from 2003 to 2008, according to eVestment, which tracks data on about 70% of U.S. hedge-fund firms. In 2009 and 2010, Manhattan was home to an average of 92% of the fund launches. Data for 2011 suggest the trend has continued. "There are blips in the data, but it's clear launches shifted toward New York after the crisis," says Peter Laurelli, eVestment's head of research. Detroit mafia boss says Jimmy Hoffa is buried in shallow grave north of Detroit (NYDN) Tony Zerilli, 85, says Hoffa was buried in a field outside Detroit, about 20 miles from the restaurant where he was last seen in July 1975. The aging Zerilli, who was in prison at the time of Hoffa’s disappearance, told TV news stations WNBC and WDIV that the plan was to move Hoffa’s body, but that never happened. “The master plan was, that I understood, was that they were going to put him in a shallow grave here. Then, they were going to take him from here to Rogers City upstate,” Zerilli said. “There was a hunting lodge and they were going to bury in a shallow grave then take him up there for final burial. Then, I understand, that it just fell through.” It was unclear why Zerilli chose to speak now about the 37-year-old mystery that has elicited dozens of false leads and conspiracy theories in the past. Zerilli said is to be ailing and penniless since his release from prison in 2008. WNBC reported he is promoting an upcoming book titled "Hoffa Found.” “All this speculation about where he is and he’s not,” Zerilli said. “They say he was in a meat grinder. It’s all baloney.”

Opening/Hurricane Bell: 10.29.12

Bracing for Storm, U.S. Stock Markets to Close (Dealbook) All United States stock and options markets will close on Monday as Hurricane Sandy approaches, reversing course as Wall Street braces for the storm to barrel through the heart of the country’s financial center. The decision, made late Sunday night, leaves the American stock markets closed for weather conditions for the first time in nearly three decades. The New York Stock Exchange had previously planned on closing only its physical trading floor, while allowing for trading on its Arca electronic exchange. It has now decided to halt all trading. The Nasdaq and BATS stock markets, which are built on electronic trading, also decided to close. The CME Group, which operates the Nymex commodities exchange, said earlier on Sunday that it would close its physical trading floor on Monday, though trading would continue on its electronic trading platforms. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, or Sifma, said in an e-mailed statement that it was calling for bond trading, which is all done electronically, to close at noon Monday, though it left the final decision to member firms. The N.Y.S.E. last closed trading for weather reasons in 1985, when Hurricane Gloria lashed the metropolitan area. Markets Go Dark Ahead Of Storm (WSJ) Customers had complained to the exchanges and to the Securities and Exchange Commission that partial closures of the market would be too complicated, according to people with knowledge of the matter. US Stock Markets To Possibly Stay Closed Through Tuesday (Reuters) In a statement, the company said that "the dangerous conditions developing as a result of Hurricane Sandy will make it extremely difficult to ensure the safety of our people and communities, and safety must be our first priority." Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Shut Some NYC Offices for Storm (Bloomberg) Citigroup and and Goldman Sachs are among Wall Street firms planning to shift operations to other cities and have staff work from home as Hurricane Sandy’s arrival in New York forces evacuations. Employees at Citigroup, the third-biggest U.S. bank by assets, won’t be able to enter Lower Manhattan offices on Greenwich Street and Wall Street, which include the main trading floor, according to a memo sent to workers and confirmed by Shannon Bell, a spokeswoman. Goldman Sachs, whose corporate headquarters at 200 West St. is also located in an evacuation zone, told the staff in an internal memo that most of them will work from home...European-based firms including Deutsche Bank AG, Credit Suisse Group AG and UBS AG, which have offices outside of the mandatory evacuation zone, are making arrangements to provide transportation and hotels for workers. Christie: "Don't Be Stupid" (AP) A year after telling New Jersey residents to "Get the hell off the beach" as Hurricane Irene approached, Gov. Chris Christie has a new message for people on the coastline: "Don't be stupid — get out," Christie said Sunday afternoon at a news conference, where he updated residents on the status of the huge storm bearing down on the state. Stock Pickers Game The Fiscal Cliff (WSJ) A number of companies are seeking to get ahead of the tax increases by paying out big special dividends before Dec. 31. In the past two weeks, at least four Standard & Poor's 500 companies have announced special payouts, including a $750 million payout by casino operator Wynn Resorts Ltd., a $1.1 billion dividend from hospital operator HCA Holdings Inc. and a $1.6 billion dividend from LyondellBasell Industries NV, a New York-listed chemicals group. The game for investors is to figure out which companies could be next. Jay Wong, a Los Angeles-based portfolio manager for Payden & Rydel, a money manager with $75 billion under management, is on high alert for potential payouts. He increased his stake in Wynn earlier this month in anticipation of a special dividend and is looking for others. He declined to be specific, citing a desire to not give his trades away. Occupy Wall Street's Stacey Hessler Splits From Husband (NYP, earlier) The filing lists Curtiss’ occupation as banker and says he earns $65,000 a year. Her job is listed in court papers as “protester” and her employer as “Occupy Wall Street.” Annual salary: $0. Divorce papers cite “irreconcilable differences” for the split, saying the 19-year marriage “is irretrievably broken.” One OWS protester who knows her says that Stacey’s devotion to the movement caused the divorce but that she was unfazed by the breakup. “She didn’t seem sad about any of it,” the source said. “It was just so matter-of-fact.” As recently as last month, Stacey, 39, was sleeping in front of a Wells Fargo bank branch in the Financial District near Zuccotti Park, but it appears she scrambled back home to suburban DeLand to finalize the divorce. Wearing her professional-protester uniform — a bandana and patchwork clothes — she refused to say what her plans were or when she’d be leaving the house. But she did respond when a Post reporter asked about a YouTube video showing her making out with another protester during an Occupy “Kiss In” on Valentine’s Day. “I actually made out with four guys,” she said, laughing wildly. Governments to debate 50 billion euro cut to EU budget (Reuters) The cut will be proposed in the latest EU negotiating text on the bloc's spending plan for 2014-2020, but is unlikely to be deep enough to satisfy Britain, Germany, France and other net budget contributors. They want strict limits on EU spending to reflect the austerity imposed by national governments to reduce debt, and called for cuts of 100-200 billion euros to the total proposed by the EU's executive, the European Commission. The proposal is also likely to anger Poland and other former communist EU countries who are the major beneficiaries of EU funds, and oppose any cuts to the Commission's blueprint which they argue is vital for their future economic growth. "As I see it now, the reduction from the Commission proposal will be 50 billion euros plus. That will be the basis for negotiations," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Greek Journalist Held Over List of Swiss-Account Holders (Bloomberg) Kostas Vaxevanis, editor of the Greek magazine Hot Doc, was arrested in Athens today, according to a message posted on his Twitter account at 11 a.m. local time. An arrest warrant was issued yesterday after the magazine published what’s been dubbed the “Lagarde list,” an electronic file given to Greece in 2010 by then-French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde of about 2,000 Greeks with Swiss accounts. Insurers Prepare For Impact Of Hurricane Sandy (Reuters) Had Sandy hit in 2011, it may have been more of a problem for the insurance industry, which dealt with record-breaking losses around the world last year, mostly from U.S. tornadoes and Asia-Pacific earthquakes. But in 2012, most insurers' disaster losses are down substantially, leaving them with more capacity to absorb the billions of dollars in costs some expect from Hurricane Sandy. "In terms of losses, I certainly don't think it's going to be the largest loss of the last 100 years," Tom Larsen, senior vice president of Eqecat, said in an interview late Friday. "It's not an end-of-days scenario." SEC Weighs Bringing Back Fractions in Stock Prices (WSJ) The move would at least partly undo an 11-year-old rule that replaced fractions of a dollar in stock prices, like 1/8 and 1/16, with pennies. The idea of that change was to trim investors' trading costs: One-cent increments can lead to narrower gaps between the prices at which brokers buy and sell shares—potentially reducing their opportunity to shave off profits. Those championing the fraction's return say it would spur securities firms to buy and sell more shares of some companies by making it more profitable for them to do so. Opponents say fractions would increase trading costs for investors with little or no benefit to companies. UBS, RBS Traders Suspended as Rates Probe Goes Beyond Libor (Bloomberg) UBS and Royal Bank of Scotland suspended more than three traders in Singapore as regulators investigating Libor-rigging turn their attention to the rates used to set prices on foreign exchange derivatives. At least two foreign-exchange traders at UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, have been put on leave as part of an internal probe into the manipulation of non-deliverable forwards, a derivative traders use to speculate on the movement of currencies that are subject to domestic foreign exchange restrictions, according to a person with direct knowledge of the operation. Edinburgh-based RBS also put Ken Choy, a director in its emerging markets foreign exchange trading unit, on leave, a person briefed on the matter said on Oct. 26. Women who knew 'cannibal cop' worried they were on his 'cook list' (NYP) “Freaked-out” female acquaintances of would-be cannibal cop Gilberto “Gil” Valle yesterday wondered whether they were on his alleged list of 100 ladies to kidnap, rape, torture, cook — and eat. “I was so shaken when I found out it was him,” said Beverly Seiger, who knew Valle, 28, from the Forest Hills, Queens, park he visited nightly with his wife and baby daughter. “I used to walk his dog. I’ve been to his house many times. He’s been to my house,” she said of Valle, whom federal prosecutors accuse of plotting with three fiendish pals to kidnap, cook and consume scores of females. “I don’t want to be on his list!” Seiger said. “I’m so thin, he would use me as toothpicks. “The women in this neighborhood now are freaked out,” she said. Another female resident asked a reporter, “Are we on this list? “I fit in an oven,” she said, referring to Valle’s alleged boasting online of having an oven “big enough to fit one of these girls if I folded their legs.”

Opening Bell: 02.13.12

Société Générale to Restructure (WSJ) Société Générale said Wednesday it will roll out a restructuring plan to cut costs and boost revenue, as the French bank posted a larger-than-expected fourth-quarter loss and painted a stark picture of the outlook for retail banking in France against the backdrop of a stagnant economy...The Paris-based lender, France's second-largest publicly listed bank by market capitalization, reported a €476 million net loss ($640 million) in the three months ended Dec. 31, compared with €100 million net profit last year, well below analysts' expectations. Apple's Cook Calls Einhorn Lawsuit 'Silly Sideshow', Says Company's Not Tight-Fisted (CNBC) Wading into a controversy that was bought to a head last week by fund manager David Einhorn, Cook touted his company's investment in product development and research. The CEO rejected the basis of a lawsuit filed by Einhorn that the fund manager asserts will restrict Apple's ability to distribute its excess cash to its investors. "Frankly I find it bizarre that we would find ourselves being sued for doing something that's good for shareholders," Cook told the Goldman Sachs' Technology and Internet Conference. Apple checkmate: Another big investor backs company vs. Einhorn (NYP) The California State Teachers’ Retirement System, a $157.8 billion pension fund that owns 1.6 million Apple shares, told The Post they are siding with Apple against Einhorn. CalSTRS supports the proposal because “blank check” preferred stock “can be used as anti-takeover defenses and entrench a board,” said Anne Sheehan, the director of corporate governance. SAC Probe Said to Be Hampered by Auto-Deleted E-Mails (Bloomberg) The federal investigation of insider trading by SAC Capital Advisors LP and its founder, Steven A. Cohen, has been hampered by a lack of extensive e-mail evidence. One reason: During the period of time at the heart of the probe, July 2008, SAC automatically deleted its e-mails. Unluckily for the U.S. government, SAC changed its policy just months later, requiring preservation of electronic communications. By then, most messages relevant to the $700 million in alleged illegal trades had been erased, according to a person familiar with the matter. Until the fall of 2008, SAC e-mails were deleted from employee electronic mailboxes every 30 or 60 days, according to SAC General Counsel Peter Nussbaum. Comcast Buys Rest Of NBC's Parent (WSJ) Comcast Corp, in a bullish bet on traditional entertainment, is buying General Electric Co.'s stake in NBCUniversal for $16.7 billion, giving the cable operator full ownership of the film and television giant much sooner than expected. Kate Upton on Antarctic shoot for SI: 'My body was shutting down' (NBC) The theme of this year’s issue, which hit newsstands Tuesday, put models in exotic settings on all seven continents. Upton was sent to the most forbidding one of them all, Antarctica, to endure with frigid temperatures in skimpy outfits, including the parka top and bikini bottom she is wearing on the magazine's cover. “I was very surprised by the news that that’s where my shoot was going to be located,’’ she said on TODAY Tuesday in her first interview since making the cover. “It was freezing. I’m from Florida, so it wasn’t great for me. When I came back I was losing hearing and eyesight because my body was shutting down, it was working so hard to keep warm. I was thinking warm thoughts." Eurozone Worries Intensify (WSJ) Industrial production in the euro zone fell at its sharpest quarterly rate in more than three years at the end of last year, despite rising in December, stoking fears of a third consecutive quarterly economic contraction. But data released on Wednesday suggested the euro-zone economy reached a low point in November and could be showing early signs of recovery, as production in Germany, the currency bloc's biggest single economy, rose in December after falling for four consecutive months. Russia Says It Is Moving Away From Currency Manipulation (CNBC) FYI. ING To Cut 2,400 More Jobs (WSJ) The Netherlands' biggest bank by assets, which had about 85,000 employees world-wide at the end of the fourth quarter, is cutting costs in response to the weak European economy and tougher regulations for banks. As US Gasoline Prices Soar, Hedge Fund Oil Bets Near Record (Reuters) U.S. motorists searching for someone to blame for the highest gasoline prices ever at this time of year have an easy target: hedge funds who have been quietly amassing winning bets on hundreds of millions of barrels of oil. At a filling station in Midtown New York last week, several people were prepared to blame traders on Wall Street as they paid more than $4 per gallon to fill up their cars. "It really is not supply and demand. It's definitely speculation," said John Keegan, an exterminator with pest control company Terminate Control, who was filling up his van. A cab driver said he was convinced the price would be just $1 a gallon if the government "stopped Wall Street trading oil." No Ordinary Affenpinscher, Banana Joe Is Named Best in Show (NYT) Banana Joe, a black dog with a monkeylike face, became the first affenpinscher to win Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday night. He defeated six dogs, one a Portuguese water dog on the same night that Bo, who is the same breed, watched his master, President Obama, deliver the State of the Union address. “He’s won a lot of big, big shows, but none like this one,” said his handler, Ernesto Lara, who held onto Joey, as he calls him, during a postshow news conference. Joey sat calmly, as if he could have gone back onto the floor of Madison Square Garden and taken on his challengers again. He stuck his tongue out as Lara answered questions. He didn’t appear to need any celebratory drinks or snacks. “I don’t think he has anything to prove,” Lara said. “I’m not bragging, this is just the way he is. The best thing is that I was in cue with him.” He added: “This isn’t a breed you train. He’s like a human. You befriend him.”

Opening Bell: 10.5.15

Tsipras has work cut out for him; "Economic instabilities are showing no sign of dampening appetites for deal-making"; Merkel says f*ck VW, Germany is the place to take your biz; Schwarzman is in good with the Pope; "Australian artist to alter sexual cheeseburger mural"; and more.